The Teleology of Dunes


Poems by

Martin Settle

ISBN: 978-1-59948-498-3, ~80 pages, Cover price: $14

Release date: February 24, 2015


MSettle_PxMartin Settle is a writer and an assemblage artist. He grew up in Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River, steeped in the mythology of Mark Twain. Settle was in a Catholic religious order, attended Quincy College, the University of Illinois, and UNC Charlotte, and is a Viet Nam Era veteran. Martin Settle has taught middle school, high school, and college for thirty-two years. He retired from UNC Charlotte in 2010. The three loves of his life are his wife Deborah, his daughter Hannah, and words. As with Oscar Wilde, he would say, “Between me and life there is a mist of words always.”

Settle’s The Teleology of Dunes delivers an engrossing read, informed by his study of physical science, world religion, mythology and life lived close to the earth. His poems range from elegiac to rhapsodic (think Hopkins) to short odes to family relations, including “Fading Photograph of the Last Supper,” “Cormorants and Oranges” and “Showering with My Father.”  His power of imagery propels this special collection too (“maybe our hearts are cockle shells / maybe our yearnings are pulled by the moon / maybe our last breaths provide moisture for clouds”).  Bravo!

— Barbara Lau, The Long Surprise, Winner of the 2000 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize


 These poems speak their truths to anyone, with layers of cultural, natural, spiritual and poetic riches awaiting miners so inclined. Settle is an honest and insightful craftsman whose poems move us somewhere new. Whether writing of his daughter, a hermit crab on the beach, an old friend, or a homeless man, he pens the heart of the matter in incantatory lines of lyrical simplicity and existential immensity.

— Malin Pereira, Ph.D., Professor of English, UNC Charlotte


Throughout these poems Martin Settle thoughtfully juxtaposes myth and reality with images such as Percival as hitchhiker and Telemachus as son visiting his wheelchair-bound father. Settle weaves a retelling of ancient stories that are not unlike his own stories through the wanderings of his youth, marriage and family. He writes of loss and celebration, dreaming and dancing, homelessness and going home.
In remembrance of a homeless man he eulogizes, “if I were God, / I’d let you in the back door of Heaven, / the place where they keep the mops. / you could roam the pristine streets, / a question mark to all the residents, / who had assumed they’d earned their way.”
This is a collection of powerful work that is retrospective and relevant, introspective and transcendent. In these insightful poems Martin Settle explores both his inner life and the human condition. We are left with his advice, “…I counsel you / remembering soothes more than forgetting.”

–Jonathan K. Rice, Editor/Publisher, Iodine Poetry Journal


Cormorants and Oranges

alone on blankets in a cove
we fed on oranges and crusty bread
and watched the skimmers

split a seam of ocean skin.
gulls laughed and banked
in bleached blue sky

while cormorants preened
on cliff walls above our heads.
we shed our clothes,

lying naked on the beach,
our bodies tide pools
the surf had left behind.

with magnified hands
we explored the smooth
algae-covered stones,

the starfish underside,
and limpet life held to breasts.
our mollusk mouths

lips and tongues,
anemone around a finger,
empty conch a crustacean home.

when the tide returned
we climbed the cliffs
to see where we had been.

the beach throbbed kelp,
sea grasses streamed maiden
songs from craggy rocks.

the ocean sighed horizon clouds
and currents flowed deeper down
than where the pelicans dove.


is a creek whose eyes
reflect willows

her twists and turns
take you to pools

where water striders
play on ripples

her lips are minnows
and breasts invite like falls

her moisture’s mossy
her laughter muddy

she smoothes jagged places
her whispers quench the sand

she puddles in lonely places
then leaves you dry as stone

she purls self-possessed
her dreams seep where you cannot go

The Day I Disappeared

the tide returned first,
bucketing out footprints.
the sky veiled itself in dripping gray,
cloud-sheet scullery.

moated on a sand mound
I turned in rain gauze.
the dunes had disappeared,
leaving me without direction
an empty shell tossed in swash,
amniotic surf whispering

the sea nudged my knees,
wanted me back
among shoaling fish,
creatures synchronized by the call
of one verb.
the estuary mouth
laved, swirled, swaddled,
entrapping my will in
mur and mur mother fish flame.

then I disappeared
in an elation of erasure,
eternity pouring into hollows,
a room I always wanted.
I swam with death
the dim beam me
microwave pattern from the beginning
moving, moving
from form to form.

a wave slapped me off my feet.
I staggered behind the dunes
to family waiting in a car.
“where have you been?”
they asked.
“we’re hungry.”
“everywhere,” I said,
“and I’m hungry,
hungrier than I have ever been.”

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